Not the Only, Just the Latest

Image for post

Scrolling through Facebook recently I came across the latest in a long line of Internet screeds I have come to call “Declarations of Idiocy.” These familiar articles share a common feature: a numbered list of actions and behaviors the author claims they will not do, cannot be forced to do, and when (not if) force is attempted they will resist with their very lives, so help them god.

If you haven’t seen this particular example yet, you will.

Declarations of Idiocy are the life blood of social media.

The Coronavirus crisis is, of course, the topic of the latest addition to this sad, pathetic genre. Eight numbered points, each starting with “I don’t…”, “I won’t…” “I do…”, “I WILL NOT…”, each one a declaration of independence from sense or sensibility, but especially from any sense of responsibility to others. True to form, the ‘others’ mentioned in passing or by omission are all enemies — evil people forcing the author to do, or not do, something declared a gross violation of god-given rights.

The ‘others’ condemned in the text, though, are you and me. Unlike the usual snarling screed of this type, that rails against phantom villains plotting global domination, this froth-lipped rant is aimed directly at average folks — you, me, the man next door, the woman down the street. All the same old paranoid language and denunciations, but the target is the common member of our society. If I ask that we all do what we can to avoid spreading a deadly virus, I am Mad King George treading on the serpent of colonial independence.

I did some digging and the earliest example of this cri de cœur I can find is from April 23, when someone on the Reddit thread r/CovIdiots posted it with the comment “This is currently being spread on facebook [sic]”. So, the post is older than that, and based on the words “less than two weeks of this ‘outbreak’”, I believe it first appeared sometime early to mid- April.

March 16 was the first time President Trump stopped dismissing the pandemic and said in a press conference that people should work from home if possible, avoid discretionary travel and not gather in groups. On April 3, Trump read a CDC statement recommending the use of masks, while saying he would not wear one and stressing that doing so was “voluntary”.

So, my guess is that one day soon after, someone penned this latest diatribe and posted it, which turned viral and spread like the very contagion it ridicules. How could it not? The adult in every American is only skin deep, a thin and easily penetrated layer over the sneering pre-teen who screams “You’re not the boss of me!”

Declarations of Idiocy spread quickly in the US because we are a nation with daddy issues.

Another interesting fact about such posts is revealed in the final two lines:

* copied and pasted, feel free to do the same! *
* my personal opinion which as an American I have the right to!!!!

Nothing says, “personal opinion” more than “copied and pasted”.

Idiot, as a label, has not always meant someone inherently stupid or foolish. That definition fits in these cases, yes, but the Greek root of the word, idios, originally meant a private person — one who stands apart from their society, or demos — literally their village. Idios translates directly to “one’s own”, as in “one’s own person”.

In the context of pandemic, nothing could better describe someone who publishes a multi-point tirade enumerating how they will “go their own way”, each point a practice that flies in the face of all scientific consensus, common sense and plain decency, expressed in terms that take obvious pride in dismissing any care for others.

Behind the bluster, however, lies an even more dangerous and insidious contagion. The core of these sentiments lies in the beliefs that a) I alone know the truth b) everyone is out to get me in some way, and c) my life is infinitely more important than anyone’s. Or everyone’s.

There’s that pre-teen again, red-faced and breathless, teeth bared and fists balled, screaming at the playground supervisor that he won’t come in from recess and you can’t make me!

Declarations of Idiocy feel good the same way it feels good to scream curses at our parents through our locked bedroom door.

Image for post
…except our bedroom is now a worldwide broadcast center

It is entirely possible that this post was created and is being spread for more nefarious reasons. We have learned in recent years that memes of all sorts are sometimes used as a tool of propaganda for a variety of purposes, a simple and effective way to nudge the mindset of a populace this way or that, or to simply sew chaos. I found a trail of these posts on obscure Facebook accounts and proudly tweeted by a candidate for Congress. We can certainly look side-eyed at such propaganda and consider we might be manipulated by it into acting against our own interests. It wouldn’t be the first time.

But in the end, that doesn’t really matter. We are moved by ideas we agree with, and we Americans are fertile soil for the seeds of poisonous fruit. If we parrot other’s wild and dangerous ideas and claim them as our own or weave them ourselves from whole cloth, the result is the same. We dissociate ourselves from our society, from the rest of humanity, we proclaim our independence from any care for or deference to others. We declare our idiocy.

We revel in the act of turning our backs on fellow human beings for reasons hidden only in the dark core of our deepest insecurities, wielding our anger like a weapon against a faceless enemy with a million faces — humanity. But the truth of our hearts is revealed in that anger, for Anger is always the bodyguard of Fear.

Fear drives us to stand apart: fear of subservience, of betrayal, of annihilation by insignificance. But Fear often hides behind the armor of Anger, and the best way Anger can protect that screaming, red-faced, terrified child is to turn his face away from all others and lead him to go his own way.

Idios fears nothing more keenly than Demos.

“Heaven is a library of every book ever written, eternity to sit and read, and a bottomless cup of the best coffee.”

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store